The following outline chronology covers some of the key events discussed in this book.


30 December: Wuhan doctor Li Wenliang 李文亮 alerts colleagues about a new disease with apparent similarities to the SARS coronavirus; days later, the police warn him to stop ‘spreading rumours’.


11 January: Taiwan president Tsai Ing-wen 蔡英文, leader of the Democratic Progressive Party and an opponent of unification with the mainland, re-elected by a landslide.

15 January: US and China sign ‘Phase One’ trade deal.

23 January: Wuhan goes into lockdown to contain the spread of COVID-19.

30 January: The World Health Organization (WHO) declares COVID-19 a Public Health Emergency of International Concern.

7 February: Whistleblower Li Wenliang dies of COVID-19.

11 March: WHO declares COVID-19 a pandemic.

13 March: A Chinese Red Cross plane delivers PPE and medical equipment to Rome in the first major expression of China’s ‘Mask Diplomacy’.

2 April: COVID-19 cases surpass 1 million worldwide.

8 April: Wuhan lockdown ends.

19 April: The Australian Government calls for China to co-operate in a global investigation into the origins of COVID-19.

21 April: Beijing takes the first of a number of seemingly punitive actions against imports of Australian barley, beef, wine, and coal.

14 May: The US Senate passes the Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act of 2020, angering Beijing.

20 May: The CCP warns its members not to deviate from the party line even in private conversation.

23 May: The People’s Republic of China (PRC) announces it has no new cases of COVID-19 for first time since the beginning of the pandemic.

15 June: Deadly skirmish on the Sino-Indian border sparks continuing, low-level hostilities.

19 June: Hong Kong’s popular political satire show Headliner, apparently cancelled under political pressure from Beijing, airs its final episode.

26 June: Human Rights Watch and 300 other groups call on the UN to monitor the human rights situation in China.

30 June: The National Security Law for Hong Kong, which criminalises ‘secession’, ‘subversion’, ‘terrorism’, and ‘foreign interference’, comes into effect.

8 July: The CCP Central Committee launches a new ‘political rectification movement’ for political-legal institutions including the police and judiciary to eliminate corruption and enforce political loyalty.

18 July: Water levels at the Three Gorges Dam reach historic highs. Catastrophic floods across twenty-six provinces result in hundreds of deaths, displace millions, and cause hundreds of billions of yuan worth of economic damage.

22 July: The US closes the PRC’s Houston consulate; the PRC retaliates by closing the US Chengdu consulate.

23 July: US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says engagement with China has failed and calls on ‘freedom-loving nations’ to make their mission ‘changing the CCP’s behaviour’.

5 August: US Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar travels to Taiwan, the highest-level US official to visit the island in forty years, infuriating Beijing.

22 September: Xi Jinping 习近平 announces to the UN that China will reach ‘peak carbon’ by 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality by 2060.

6 October: A survey by Pew Research Center reveals unfavourable views of China at historic highs around the globe, with Beijing’s lack of transparency around the coronavirus outbreak a major factor.

10 October: Taiwan president Tsai Ing-wen invites the PRC to engage in ‘peaceful dialogue’; Beijing announces live-fire exercises in the Taiwan Strait.

13 October: The PRC is re-elected to the Human Rights Council of the UN, amid controversy over ongoing repression in Xinjiang and arrests of human rights activists.

14 October: Shenzhen celebrates the fortieth anniversary of its establishment as a Special Economic Zone.

12 November: Hong Kong pro-democracy lawmakers resign en masse after government disqualifies four of them. There have already been multiple arrests under the National Security Law.

15 November: China, Australia, and thirteen other Asia-Pacific countries sign the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership agreement, the world’s largest free-trade bloc.

18 November: China reveals fourteen grievances with Australia, warning: ‘If you make China the enemy, China will be the enemy.’

19 November: The foreign ministers of the ‘Five Eyes’ alliance Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the UK, and the secretary of state of the US call on the PRC to ‘stop undermining rights’ in Hong Kong.

2 December: Hong Kong democracy advocates Joshua Wong Chi-fung 黃之鋒, Agnes Chow Ting 周庭, and Ivan Lam 林朗彥 jailed for their role in the 2019 protests.

2 December: Landmark sexual harassment case against the TV host Zhu Jun 朱军 by Zhou Xiaoxuan 周晓璇, aka Xianzi 弦子, an advocate for women’s, LGBTQ, and trans rights, begins court hearings in Beijing.

3 December: Xi Jinping declares victory in China’s fight against poverty.

17 December: UNESCO names Tai Chi part of the world’s ‘intangible cultural heritage’.

26 December: The UK’s Centre for Economics and Business Research predicts the Chinese economy will become the world’s largest in 2033.

31 December: According to John Hopkins Coronavirus Research Center, confirmed global COVID-19 cases reach 83,146,810 million, with more than 1,812,645 million deaths. The US has the world’s highest number of cases (19,852,041) and deaths (344,030).